It’s rainy as it is beautiful in Paris. Everything smells of old dust, or freshly-baked bread, and Frida inhales it all in great lungfuls, wanting the memory of it all to seep into her skin and inundate her creaking bones.
She doesn’t know what Paris will bring her, but she knows she likes it better than the drab mechanical grayness of the gringoland. Deprived of the wildness of Cocyeon, she moves as one amputated, a rejected and prodigal child. She cuts off her hair and drinks tequila with conquistadors, runs about the Sine with It will never hold a candle to her beloved Mexico; the gringos run about plentifully, shouting and laughing as they flood the street outside her window.
Staying cooped up is an impossibility, even though navigating the rain-slicked cobblestone streets is difficult with her aching hip. There’s so much to see and do that she sets aside the nagging of others and rushes toward the latest adventure. There are canvases, morphine, the steady drip of opiates and the scent of coffee brewing everywhere.
They meet through mutual acquaintances. The scent of coffee and cigarillos waft through the air of the small apartment overloaded with artistic types (“Bullshitters”, Frida declaims them all). Josephine is the center of attention, dripping bon-mots as she has her cigarette lighted, the boys hanging off her words, tugging at the sharp corners of her pleated pants. She indulges them with her laughter and her sweet attention before pushing them away.
Frida knows the hired entertainment and spends and exorbitant amount of time applauding their efforts before sparking up a cigarillo and filling her plate with a creamy dish of chicken mon maison. Josephine, she notes with a sense of bemused nervousness, never leaves the couch, allowing her assistant to bring her her meal. The singer elegantly sips her wine, calling praise to the cook, cooing to her assistant and kissing each cheek before dismissing her for the evening.
Frida picks this time to approach, They drift together to a couch to discuss the world over cigarillos and excellent Columbian roast, teeny sugar cakes that slicken Frida’s fingers with their glaze and make her yearn for the crusty simplicity of sopapillas.
When they speak, it’s about the generalities of art. Frida’s always been something of a performer, and so admires Josephine’s general boldness. When they shift the conversation to their other loves: food, children, travel – their voices turn soft and rich, filled with quiet introspection, and, in Frida’s case, recrimination of self.
“I collect beautiful things,” admits Josephine, her fingers stroking along the couch’s backside. She will later be accused of this – and worse-by those who criticize her rainbow tribe of adopted children, who asses her fine furs and beautiful homes as a sign of haughtiness and reprimand her for it.
Perhaps it’s the wine that leads them to bed, but it’s the conversation that keeps them there. On the Montramorte cars scream by, oblivious to a nude, laughing Josephine on the balcony, calling down orders to her houseboy to brew them thick mugs of chocolate and to run to the boulangerie for a bag of pastry.
Josephine praises the warm air, the sounds and smells beckoning them toward wakefulness. But she turned toward Frida and discovered her lover lying still and pale in bed, her teeth knotted against her lips.
“My hip,” she says. ‘I need a shot. My assistant has a syringe…”
Josephine smiles and kisses Frida’s temple. “Every child of God has pain,” she says, and works her open palms against the muscles knotted into lumps upon Frida’s back.
It’s easy to pretend there’s no tomorrow when you’re in love. Josephine and Frida can tell one another anything, but they can’t bear to broach the painful reality of their eventual separation.
But they can speak at length about what had shaped them, now. Frida speaks of her odd little traditional family, of her disapproving mother and artistic father, and Christina, who had delivered two lively-minded children upon whom Frida dotes. Josephine’s stories deliver the world of the steamy south, which she had rejected when it rejected her, and the smoky, glittering speakeasies of Europe in which she’d made her home. There are also stories of movie sets, but Frida’s glowering causes Josephine to skim over those. Diego has always been obsessed with starlets, their curves and hips and their happy, flirtatious ways.
They never spoke of life’s great accidents, the cosmic jokes that had made Josephine an Allied spy and Frida a half-crippled Communist, but they felt them all the same.
They could be gentle, to her surprise. They could storm and rage over loaves of crusty bread and great wine, but they could rise to the occasion and yet recede like an ocean.
Frida leaves tiny grey bruises on Josephine’s collarbone, handprints the size of Josephine’s palm blooming across Frida’s backside. Between impassioned moments of loving there are hours spent arguing over the merits of various headlines, walking the flower-strewn streets of the French capitol with Josephine’s tiny chow dogs.
It fleets away, rainbow –fingered, fading out like a muted trumpet in the grey dawn of their temporary love. There are agents to placate and portraits to paint, and worlds they each belong to; there is no future for them to mine, no lullabies to sing, no shared studios and no hand to hold in old age. There is no rancor in their parting – only tears and kisses to the cheek, and everlasting promises that they’ll meet again someday.
But they never see each other again. Frida decides that it’s better that way as she boarded an ocean liner and steamed back home through the Atlantic ocean. Josephine goes on to Italy for an engagement, and Frida attends her mother’s deathbed before accepting Diego’s apologies, his absolutions.
Memories should never be improved upon. Frida learns to hem herself in, wearing the drab brown rags of devotion and servile bliss as she sits at Diego’s knee, absorbing his every word. It is a lesson she learned swiftly when she returned to Mexico and her illness, but a valuable lesson, nonetheless.